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Needle exchanges need a champion. Will Biden’s drug czar nominee be that person?

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20.07.2021

If personnel is policy, President Biden made a curious decision in nominating Rahul Gupta to be his drug czar.

It’s not that Gupta is unqualified. He is a respected health official who has substantial experience working to address addiction. But as head of the administration’s strategy on drugs, he will need to navigate a thorny issue at the front lines of the culture wars: needle exchanges.

This is an issue that haunts Gupta from his time as West Virginia’s health commissioner. If he is to effectively carry out the president’s agenda, he’ll have to do a much better job not just defending but also promoting these programs.

The Biden administration has signaled strong support for needle exchanges as a harm-reduction strategy. The idea behind such programs is simple: Those suffering from addiction will inject drugs one way or another, so the government has an interest in making sure they can do so safely. Studies have regularly found that programs providing sterile needles not only help prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis but also reduce risky behavior such as needle-sharing.

The question for Gupta is not whether he supports harm-reduction strategies; he has a long record of doing so. It’s whether, as health commissioner, he provided cover for opponents of needle exchanges, contributing to what is now the “most concerning” HIV spike in the country, according........

© Washington Post


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